by Daniel Olsen
There have been superstars in basketball throughout the decades. Your grandparents might remember Bill Russell and his 11 championships with the Boston Celtics. Your parents might remember Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and later Magic vs Bird. You might remember Michael Jordan, Kobe and now LeBron. As LeBron’s era draws to a close in the next few years, it’s time to take a look at the next generation superstar and whether Donovan Mitchell fits into the conversation.
The Shaq-Stabbing Remarks
Yes, we have to discuss what Shaquille O’Neal said as painful as it may be. Let’s take a look at the exact quote he said to Donovan postgame.
“I said tonight that you are one of my favorite players but you don’t have what it takes to get to the next level. I said it on purpose. I wanted you to hear it,” O’Neal told Mitchell. “What do you have to say about that?”
That was Mitchell’s response exactly as it should be. The dude dropped 36 points and has been striving to get better his whole career. O’Neal’s argument at halftime was that Mitchell could only affect the game by scoring. This seems unfair because the only unanimous MVP, Stephen Curry, was voted such because of his lights-out scoring. Mitchell and Curry will get the chance to face off tonight.
Mitchell is living in the twilight of other great players, but can he take the mantle of the next generation? Let’s take a look at the other young stars that have come during and after his time.
Jayson Tatum: Draft Class Rival
In many mock re-drafts of 2017, Tatum would be number one and Mitchell would be two. It makes sense why many people feel this way. Tatum is a long athletic player who the Celtics got by trading the number one pick to Philadelphia for the third pick. While Tatum’s numbers weren’t as good as Mitchell’s early on, that was partly due to Tatum needing to share the ball with other stars like Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker and (gulp) Gordon Hayward. If Hayward hadn’t left Utah, Mitchell might have to defer to him early on so it’s a blessing he left the Jazz to groom their young star.
Tatum is now averaging slightly more points than Mitchell. He has averaged 26.9 points so far this season. Like Mitchell, he is leading his team to one of the top seeds in his respective conference. At this point it’s hard to say but I think it’s possible Mitchell surpasses Tatum. It won’t be easy though. Tatum doesn’t affect the game much in terms of assists but he does rebound and currently score more than Mitchell. Mitchell was recently recognized as the youngest player to hit 600 threes. He does attempt a plethora of them especially in the new Jazz “quick-three” offense. However, he can score in other ways. His ball-handling has improved so he’s able to beat his man for a dunk or cross over for a mid-range jumper. Tatum is Mitchell’s competition for 2017 NBA Draft bragging rights but not his number one competition in my opinion. That competition comes in some draft classes right after him.
Zion Williamson: Take it to the bank
While Zion means a winter getaway national park or bank in Utah, in New Orleans it’s a different story. Zion Williamson is a superstar who was taken first in the 2019 NBA Draft. Thought of by many to be the next LeBron James, Williamson is playing well in his second season albeit on a struggling Pelicans team. Williamson is averaging 23.7 points per game which is impressive. He’s only a hair below Mitchell’s current average. If that’s not enough, his 7.6 rebounds per game are solid as well. While Mitchell is a better player on a better team, Williamson could surpass that if he reaches his full potential and has the right pieces around him.
Luka Doncic: Legendary
He is a legend in two continents. What can’t Luka “Legend” Doncic do? His basketball skill set reminds many Mavericks fans of their former European superstar in Dirk Nowitzki. Their games are different but Luka definitely seems like a generational superstar. He is currently averaging 26.8 points per game and looks like he could be a fringe MVP candidate at this point in his career. This is a player that I would be shocked if Mitchell passed in terms of legacy. Mitchell is good but Doncic is skilled and has a little more size. He’s still in the same ballpark but for now Doncic is playing shortstop and Mitchell is in the outfield.
Jamal Murray: Bigger than Basketball
This is one player I think Donovan is without a doubt better than. Murray does seem to have a pure shot but has struggled so far this year. Donovan is proving as the season goes on that his high scoring last year in the playoffs was not an anomaly. Mitchell will continue to do great things while Murray will hope to be at best a second option to on a championship team in his career. Could that be on the Nuggets? Only time will tell.
Ja Morant: The Future is bright
Morant has been bitten with the injury bug this year but is back and ready to get his sophomore campaign going. Previously mentioned Williamson was injured for much of last year but that doesn’t take away from the greatness of Morant. He still earned it and was head and shoulders above the competition. Morant is averaging over 22 points a game so far and could become a superstar as he continues to ascend.
Prediction: Mitchell will be a Superstar
While there are a small group of superstar older players that still have dibs on this generation, they are nearing the twilight of their careers. There may be a young player we haven’t mentioned that will rise to stardom but for now, this is the short list. Let’s not ignore Gobert who is a superstar on the defensive end. He is maybe a half generation older than Donovan though as he entered the league the same time that The Greek Freak (Giannis Antetokounmpo) did.
If we were to re-draft players since 2017, I would draft Mitchell third. I maybe would say second at best. As much as I love Mitchell and believe in the Jazz, Doncic is already the best on this list and Williamson has the highest ceiling. This is no disrespect to Mitchell as this is a great list to be on. If he can continue to improve and increase his scoring to be closer to that 30 points per game mark, he could be in MVP talks with these guys for years to come. My one concern is his size. At 6’1” it’s harder for him to affect the game than someone with that gift. There have been a few players who have done it. Allen Iverson was one of them. At six feet with shoes on, Iverson became an MVP and was perhaps one of the best pound-for-pound athletes the NBA has seen.
There are plenty of comparisons to Mitchell. Damian Lillard and Dwayne Wade are a few that come to mind. I think he can be a first-team All-NBA player, make several All-Star games and be in the conversation for MVP. If he does this and compares well to the guys on this list, then the future is bright for the young king. Whether he wins a title remains to be seen but there have been great players in several generations who never won on the biggest stage. Let’s appreciate greatness. Let’s appreciate the great human being that Mitchell is.
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